By Eva Cicoria
What comes to mind when you think of a port? Boats, barges, cargo, cranes? What about sea life? In LA Harbor, as I’ve discovered over years kayaking there, you’ll find
many species of shorebirds, fish, crustaceans, and marine mammals, including seals, sea lions, dolphins, even whales on occasion. Recently, we’ve seen gray whales feeding within the inner harbor, stopping off during their annual migration from Baja California back to Arctic.
You know what’s also out there? Trash.
You’ve no doubt read of the large amounts of litter that wash up on our beaches after rain. Over the years, significant mobilization efforts have brought the public out to clean it up. What many don’t realize is the large amount of trash that washes up onto our jetties and hangs onto sea grass and kelp within the harbor waiting for tidal shifts and currents to carry it out to sea. And it’s not just after rain; it’s year-round.
Much of the trash is plastic. With increased awareness of the plastic problem—micro particles found in the air we breathe and the fish we eat; plastic in the five ocean gyres; and plastic filling the bellies of birds, fish, and marine mammals, as well as entangling and asphyxiating them—many agencies and organizations are actively working on solutions at the source, and many of us proactively reduce our use of single use plastic items.
While out kayaking, though, we continue to find plastic in myriad forms: bottles and bags, foam cups, food containers, packing material and bits, food wrappers, straws, lids, bubble wrap, sports balls, beach toys, balloons, boat fenders, buckets, boots, flip flops, fishing line and bobbers, and tarps. Some of the small items we come across regularly include lighters, cigarette mouthpieces, and dental floss picks. Some of the larger, more unusual items we’ve found were a suitcase, a car battery, rubber mats, a safety cone, a skateboard, and a grappling hook. We even hauled out a plastic netting-wrapped boom—ironically, the kind used to block debris flow. Presumably, it broke free and was on its way out to the Pacific garbage patch when we intercepted it.
If it isn’t picked up and packed out, it will flow out to the open sea where it is harder to capture. That’s where we try to be part of the solution. Over the past dozen years, our time kayaking in LA Harbor has evolved from plucking out trash here and there while paddling along to our routine now of once a week filling our boats with trash found floating. We paddle out to areas where we know trash tends to accumulate (depending upon tide and currents), pick it up, bring it back to shore, photograph it for documentation, and then throw it out (recycling what we can). The litter load is not diminishing.
Recently, we launched a Facebook page, “Paddle Out Plastic” to share information about trash pollution in our waterways and encourage paddlers to join in to help protect our ocean and marine life. If you have a kayak or paddleboard, come along!